Waste not want not: time as the most undervalued resource in banking
For those of us working in banking, time is a constant topic.
Deadlines. Quarter end reviews. Projections. Demands for specific time horizon predictions for any new idea: how long have I got, how long will you need, how long till it makes me money and I can stop worrying about it. Time to market, time to value, return on investment (ROI). We use time as a yardstick. And yet we don’t seem to value it.
We spend time calculating how much time we will need to do things we haven’t spent the time understanding. We spend time to question our colleagues good intentions. We spend time (heaps and heaps of time) to discuss and mitigate risks, syndicate decisions and allocate resources. We spend time as if it wasn’t money, doing the one thing that is not irreversible for fear of doing a dozen things that are. We squander the one resource that can never be replenished to protect those that can.
Lean Six Sigma for the Soul
Time is the new oil. Not data. There will always be more data, the proliferation of data is the only certainty of the digital era. And we still haven’t cracked how to truly make money from the data we have. Whereas time is finite, just like oil. We know how to make money with it, just like oil. And just like oil, we often mismanage it and suffer the consequences.
Too high level for you?
Get up (I will wait) walk down to your innovation team and ask them to talk to you about the key principles of Lean Six Sigma, the golden rules we hold our processes, machines and junior clerical staff to, but not our execs.
What you will come back with is a cautionary note about waste: waste of time, effort, talent or opportunity by over processing, repeating or duplicating effort, transporting things that don’t need to be transported, handing over things that don’t need to be handed over, checking things that have already been checked, because you don’t trust anyone but you. And neither does the next guy.
We have learnt that waste in a process is bad for business. And yet we are organisationally willing to waste the only thing we will never have more of, time, because, let’s face it, we have commitment issues. We are risk-averse and paperwork-crazy so we are ok spending three times as long on assessing something than we will spend building it, and because there is no real way to measure how long the window of opportunity will stay open, it doesn’t become a factor on our pre-engagement study. Making the up-front time investment an exercise in chance, not analysis.
Go ask your Lean Six Sigma guys again, if you want. I will wait. But I know what they’ll tell you. They are part of the tribe. They will tell you this is controlled madness. And they will tell you there is another way: a less wasteful and more meaningful way to manage time in a corporate in three easy steps.
1. Be selfish
The politic thing to say is ‘start with the client’ but the reality is you start with you, because everything each of us do starts at our own desk, in our own head.
What does your organisation pay you to do? Not what did your boss ask you to prepare by Tuesday, not what deliverable did the last committee meeting allocate to you. What are you selling your time to the corporate for?
How much of the work you do is doing what you get paid to do and how much of it is producing paperwork to allay fears and assuage decision-anxiety, and delay the moment when yes or no need to be said?
If you are telling yourself you are buying your company time, stop. Buying time is a lie, you can never have more time. Only less. So what you do with it matters.
Nobody is hired to produce PowerPoint nobody will read.
And yet here you are.
And this is time neither you nor your employer will get back so if you fancy yourself a change agent, it may be time to change.
2. Know your customer (KYC)
Not the process. The actual knowledge.
Do you know your customer? Do you know how they feel about time?
You probably haven’t thought about it in those terms but if you think about it now, you probably know two simple things:
1. increasing touch points to ensure you have more opportunity to sell is not a good use of your client’s time, be it an individual, a corporate treasurer or another banker.
Low friction doesn’t just mean not having ridiculously convoluted processes that entail the client shifting channels to suit your organisational inadequacies. It means getting out of your client’s way and out of their life unless needed. It means realising that the best service you can give them is time back, in advance. Time they don’t need to spend chasing after you, navigating your organisation, working out what your arcane policies permit or, most recently, negotiating your highly curated digital experience that showcases all your best products when all your customer wants to do is be done with the task so they can go back to their day, their life and their business.
If you know your customer, you know you are asking them to spend time in a way that is all about you. And that is not as it should be.
2. Bankers have pretty involved conversations with each other about who owns the customer. The business? A centralised relationship management function? Each product team? Different models perform different marvels, different strokes for different folks, and meanwhile the customer quietly owns themselves.
You only notice that when the customer wants something and they realise someone in the market is offering it even if their bank of old doesn’t and they walk, leaving you to bicker at your leisure on whose P&L should reflect this loss of share of wallet, while nobody debates who should have had the foresight to talk about client aspirations. So that you could have decided, when you had the time, to build (or not), to invest (or not) in line with market trends and client priorities.
Ultimately, the client is owned by whoever moves in step with them. And as in every dance, timing is everything.
3. How long is a piece of string?
I have had many a hilarious conversation in my career.
This blockchain thing, how long till it really happens?
MiFiD II, how long till they start fining?
Corporate venture capital, how long do we wait till we know it didn’t work?
In some cases, the question really means: will I have to learn this, before I retire? Will I have to learn this, at all? Will it go away on its own or should I put in the effort, commit the time?
Give me a recipe to follow, as I don’t understand what I need to do or when I will know something is working so I need a set of guiding principles that make me look smart. And I need to know where to spend my time.
So how long do I wait? And can you make sure success comes dressed in a manner I will understand, so that I don’t miss it.
So we waste time, trying to agree that if we get it wrong we will still be friends, that nobody’s head will roll, or if someone’s does, it won’t be ours. And the clock ticks. Some things go away and we take this as a sign that prudence won the day. Some things develop, but we think we still have time, because time is not something we worry ourselves with. Time is measured in quarterly earnings and annual reports. Time is measured in money, not in opportunities missed, not in work not done because you were busy talking about what may go wrong.
By all means plan. And assess. And be vigilant.
Our livelihood is other people’s money, we must be prudent.
But we also must be responsible. At the end of the day, where was it written that business will continue, risk-free and profitable, forever more? Who told you that you would get to forever cash in, without taking any decisions on incomplete information?
Because whoever told you that, failed to give the digital challengers the same memo. Big and small, companies that may or may not survive, are changing the world we operate in. They behave like there is no time but now, and by living by it they make it so.
They are selfish with their time, aware of the client’s time: willing to not be in the way and move in time with them.
Go back to your innovation guys, they are expecting you.
Ask them to show you a burn down chart. To explain to you how they plan, estimate and work. How they measure the time that runs out and how far they got in the time they have not against the plan they made. Not to punish the planner, but to ask the client, if you can’t have it all, what would you rather have in this time?
Take the burn down chart back up to your office with you.
In time, you may agree with us that whoever gets how time works, when going to market in a digital era, owns the customer. Even if you don’t, it won’t matter. Whatever you think of us, our methods, our estimations and our code, the burndown will at least teach you one thing the digital world lives by: your time is what you make things happen in. You waste it at your own peril.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ new resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!